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we'll be back at the top of the hour with more live news as we continue this "cnn sunday morning," we appreciate you being with us for this first 90 minutes of sunday morning. first we want to hand it over to "sanjay gupta, m.d.," which starts right now. good morning and welcome to a very special edition of "s.g. m.d." today's show is something i wanted to do for a while now. it's about a young boy named youssef. he's become a friend of mine over the past few years, and that's him sitting right back there. his story began in iraq, and it's the most unimaginable story that you probably ever heard. really struck a chord with me as a father and as a journalist and also struck a chord with you, millions of cnn viewers all over the world. masked men came to his home one day, doused him with kerosene,
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and literally set him on fire. it's hard to imagine that something like this could happen in this world today, but it did. the story, though, is much more about strength and healing. it's about cruelty and courage. it's about a boy who rliterally rose up from the ashes. that's the story we're going to tell you today. let's start at the beginning. youssef was an outgoing happy boy, a 4-year-old who loved to ride his bicycle. as 2006 drew to a close, youssif was starting kindergarten and was eager to learn. >> when his mom asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he used to say, i want to be a doctor. he definitely, in terms of his parents, was someone who they hoped would go farther than they did in life. they'll say that themselves. we want our son to go places that we couldn't even dream of. >> youssif and his family didn't dare travel far in baghdad. like many parents, youssif's
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mother and father kept him close to home, in hopes of keeping him safe. on january 15th, a monday, youssif was just outside the front door eating chips and playing. his father was at work. his mother zaina was inside their small home. [ speaking arabic ] >> youssif's father took youssif here to kindi hospital.
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doctors at the baghdad hospital scraped the dead skin from youssif's face with no anesthetic, an incredibly painful process. [ speaking arabic ] >> when youssif returned home after 20 days, he was a different child and not just because of the scarring across much of his young face. [ speaking arabic ] >> months after the attack, youssif stood in the spot where he was burned. he said three masked men poured gasoline on him and then set him on fire. i was burning, youssif says. [ speaking arabic ]
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>> youssif now spent his days inside his baghdad home, playing computer games. youssif told his mother zaineb his friends shunned him. [ speaking arabic ] >> once outgoing, energetic, and happy, youssif was now withdrawn, sullen, angry. zaineb described other ways the old youssif was gone. [ speaking arabic ]
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>> coming up, youssif's parents look for help close to home, and they end up finding it all over the world through the generosity of strangers. stay with us. ♪
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[ male announcer ] ask your doctor if cialis for daily use is right for you. for a 30-tablet free trial offer, go to we are back with a special edition of "s.g., m.d.," devoting our show to the story of a little iraqi boy named youssif. he was horribly burned by these masked gunmen in baghdad. it's hard to understand. youssif's father did what any dad would do, what i would do, get him help, but the insurgency was getting stronger in baghdad, and he didn't think he could get the kind of medical care that youssif really needed. he kept banging his head against the wall, hitting dead ends. then the generosity started. people started donating to youssif. and their money, their generosity, took them from baghdad to los angeles, to a leading burn surgeon. >> his father had been pounding the pavement in baghdad for
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about nearly eight months. he happened to be in a store where he heard about cnn, was told that perhaps cnn could help. >> just going to the cnn bureau in baghdad, youssif's father was risking his life. youssif's father returned to the cnn bureau four times before a producer, mohammed, had time to see him. for his safety, we aren't showing his face either. >> he showed me the first picture of youssif before the incident, and that smile, i couldn't help myself but to cry. i said, oh, my god, this is your son before the incident. i run with this picture to arwa, and arwa also was like in the middle of something busy. i said, arwa, leave everything. look to this picture. >> and for us, that was it. we were going to do the story if only for the sole reason of trying to get this kid help.
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i was actually really nervous the day before the story went out on tv, and then we did a web version of it. i sensed, i thought there would be some sort of a reaction, but i didn't know if it would be enough to actually get the family help. i remember the e-mail responses beginning to come to the dot com version and feeling a little bit of relief but still apprehensive. and then all of a sudden we were flooded. i mean, was flooded. my inbox was flooded. it was completely and totally overwhelming. >> heartfelt responses came in from all over the world. >> life's too short to be wasted in hatred and revenge. >> youssif's story is full of hope, inspiration, and courage to all those living out there. >> a heartwarming and hopeful story amidst the never-ending coverage of the war on terror.
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>> youssif has changed my life forever. thank you, cnn, for your continuing coverage of the most moving story i've ever read. >> offers came from a number of charities. and youssif's parents chose the children's burn foundation to help their son. >> this is the purpose of the children's burn foundation is to help children like youssif, whether locally, nationally, or internationally, wherever they may live. so we immediately called cnn to let them know we wanted to help. >> put a link to the charity on its impact your world web page, and the donations for youssif poured in. >> impact your world is a website on that was created for stories like this so that people who read a story and
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want to act and to help an individual or just a charity in general, they can go to and make a difference. >> in no time, the charity received more than 13,000 donations, more than $300,000, all for youssif. a doctor also stepped up. dr. peter grossman of the grossman burn center in california. >> sometimes a story just hits you, a situation you're presented with just gets you right in the heart, and you say, you know what, i want to do something. i want to reach out. >> a special visa for youssif and his family was the last piece of the puzzle. >> people at the embassy in baghdad who are my direct line of contact were actually amazing. once they got all of the paperwork, youssif and his family had their travel documents within two days. and that is unheard of in the past.
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it was the most amazing thing to be able to call youssif's father finally, when everything fell into place, and say to him, your son is going to america, and he's going to get help. >> the family is finally en route to the united states. a lot of hope there, a new beginning, but there was so much more left to do for youssif. when we come back, from baghdad to a burn center. stay with us. was always... [ laughing ] that seat's not happening without a big miles upcharge. a miles upcharge wasn't part of the deal. was i supposed to go without my wife? [ elevator bell dings ] [ grunting ] haha, that was awkward. so we upgraded to the venture card from capital one. we've had it with the games. [ male announcer ] don't pay miles upcharges. don't play games. get the flight you want with the venture card at what's in your wallet? woow! hey man, how ya doin'? how's your shave?
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little youssif just suffered so much, but i can tell you, he taught us all a little something as well. through the nonstop coverage of the war and terror, he taught us something about hope and his
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spirit, and you, the cnn viewer, and user, really made the next phase of his life possible. youssif's father called it a journey, from death to life. his mother called it a dream. >> we'd like to welcome you to los angeles. >> from baghdad to los angeles, a 24-hour trip a world away, and a new beginning for youssif and his family. far from iraq's violent and uncertain streets. cnn correspondent arwa damon brought youssif's plight to the world's attention. she made the trip with the family and served, at least for the time being, as their translator. for youssif and his family, every day in their new home seemed extraordinary. >> she's seen a toaster in cartoons but not in real life. >> there were other slices of americana, previously only seen in the movies, manicured lawns,
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a swimming pool. a playground. another first, youssif's first doctor's visit with dr. peter grossman. >> he's not happy with me. this is not unusual. >> dr. grossman donated his services and planned to operate on youssif six times or more in the months ahead. trying to repair a face savagely burned when masked men in baghdad doused youssif with gasoline and set him on fire. youssif was a reluctant patient. perhaps because of the incredibly painful treatment he received in iraq. >> you let him know that i promise i'm not going to hurt him. okay? [ speaking arabic ] >> if he doesn't mind, i'm going to take a tape measure so that i can see how big that scar is. 16 centimeters.
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can he close his eyes really tight? excellent. excellent. youssif, can you open your mouth for me. okay. >> what was it like when you first met youssif? >> when i first saw youssif, i saw a face that i had seen several times before, a young child very scared, a glimmer of hope that something could be done but not quite trusting. i knew from that moment that my work was cut out for me, not just from a surgical standpoint, but on a human level. how could i get this child to trust me? and right now we're in the process of that. >> grossman scheduled youssif's first and most important operation for eight days later. on a trip to the beach, members of a nearby church wanted to help with spiritual healing. the church group recognized youssif from news stories and asked if they could say a prayer for the boy and his family.
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>> and they're going to need strength, and they're going to need faith and patience. >> youssif's mother zaineb's wish for her son was more down to earth. she said she just wanted her son's smile back. and as youssif played by the water, the first time his family had seen the ocean, zaineb said she saw a glimmer of the old youssif. if you ask his parents, that's what they say they wanted. they wanted their son back, their old youssif. coming back, i'm going to scrub in on youssif's first operation, and just minutes from now, you're going to see what youssif looks like three years later. introducing precise from the makers of tylenol. precise pain relieving cream works quickly to activate sensory receptors. it helps block pain signals fast for relief you can feel precisely where you need it most. precise. only from the makers of tylenol.
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welcome back to the show. youssif's parents would bring their 5-year-old son to the united states for burn treatment. their living expenses, their
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medical expenses, all of it paid for by the kindness of strangers. but the real question, how would youssif do? we check in now with the operation fast approaching. >> good morning. >> dr. grossman made a final visit with youssif and his family before surgery. >> this is my daddy and he's going to help with making you better too. >> accompanying him was his father, dr. richard grossman, who would also be taking part in the surgery and who would encourage his son to follow in his footsteps. >> he started the grossman burn center in 1969. just an incredible role model of someone who gives of himselves and the rewards you can get from giving. very lucky i have a nice job and i make a nice living and i love what i do, but there's no amount of money that can replace that smile on someone's face and that thanks that they give you. and when i was a kid, i used to
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see them giving that to my dad, and i said, i want that. >> take good care of him. like he's my own boy. okay? >> dr. grossman let me scrub in, to observe. he showed me how he hopes to undo much of what an unspeakably cruel act has done to this 5-year-old boy. >> we'll basically be excising this thickened scar tissue from around here. >> he planned to remove scar tissue from around youssif's nose and insert tissue expanders, small balloons under the healthy skin in youssif's cheek and neck. over time, dr. grossman hoped to stretch the heavy skin so it could replace the heavy scars on youssif's chin, jawline, and next to his ear. >> now, it's time to operate. >> all right. [ crying ]
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>> 3 1/2 hours after it began, the operation was over. >> so how did things go? >> i was pretty pleased with how things went today. we were able to accomplish everything we set our mind to and everything went without a hitch. so for a first stage operation, i was pretty happy. hopefully, it will continue along this course. >> in fact, youssif had 15 operations. and three years later, what does he look like? you're about to meet him. stay with us. introducing bayer am, an extra strength pain reliever with alertness aid to fight fatigue. so get up and get goin'! with new bayer am. the morning pain reliever. step away from the internet. schedule no meetings. hold all your phone calls.
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youssif's parents came to the united states with one suitcase and a dream, that their son would finally get the medical care that he needed. and youssif used to tell me that he wanted to go back to baghdad to play with his cousins and play with his friends once his face was fixed, as he put it.
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but their fears about iraq grew over time. and three years later, they're still right here in los angeles. so i literally have not seen youssif for almost three years now, 2 1/2 years. let's go take a look and see how he's doing. hey! how you doing? good to see you. how you doing? >> good. >> can we come in and see your house? >> all right. let's go take a look. >> so this is your place. you want to introduce me to everybody? okay, come on. >> this is my mom. >> yeah. >> and that's my dad. and that's my sister. >> and youssif has a new baby brother mustaffa. he's 2 years old. >> how was school for you? >> good. >> what did you learn? >> times and a little division.
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>> what's 6 times 2? >> 12. >> all right! >> when i talked to youssif, it was amazing to me what a typical 8-year-old boy he had become. >> this is the hardest. >> a third grader with friends who likes video games, pizza, spongebob. i was wondering if youssif was aware how far he'd come. i asked if he'd like to look at pictures of his progress? >> he said he would. >> what do you see? what can you tell me? >> like i used to have this. >> used to have this. >> and i used to have like this was red. >> this was all red in here. what else? >> then and my ear, like, i can see that. >> talking about over here? >> yeah. >> i heard you had over 12 surgeries. >> 15. >> 15? wow. was that scary for you? >> only the first one and the
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second one. >> after that you got used to it? do you want them to do anything else? >> i want to like make them fix this here. >> your ear? >> youssif has a pretty good understanding for a young boy as to what he's gone through and how he is and will always be somewhat different than other children because of the disfigurement that he has from his burn injuries. but he's also been able to take with him a sense of accomplishment -- look what i've gone through, and i can survive. >> she's good. >> the united states government has granted youssif and his family asylum. that means they can remain in the united states. >> how did you decide to stay? >> cause i see my kids getting used to live here.
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they speak english more than arabic. there the situation is still not safe to go there. >> as we're shooting this interview, we're not showing your face. after all these years, you're still worried about that? >> yeah, i still have family in iraq. i don't want anyone to get hurt. >> you're worried that if they see your face on tv, there might be some violence against your family? >> yeah. >> why would somebody do that? >> i have no idea why. like, until now, they have done so many things, killing people, explosions -- so many things. >> so many things. like deliberately burning an innocent child. youssif hasn't let what happened to him diminish his spirit, or his dreams. last time we got together, you saided up to be a doctor one day.

Sanjay Gupta MD
CNN September 19, 2010 7:30am-8:00am EDT

Series/Special. Dr. Gupta discusses medical issues.

TOPIC FREQUENCY Cnn 5, Us 4, Los Angeles 4, United States 4, Dr. Grossman 4, Grossman 3, Baghdad 3, Iraq 3, Youssif 2, Arwa 2, Gillette 2, M.d. 2, Youssef 2, Spongebob 1, Times 1, Cialis 1, New Bayer Am 1, Zaineb 1, Bayer Am 1, Fusion Proglide 1
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on 9/19/2010